Sunday Times Rich List: The changing face of wealth

Margaret Thatcher in 1989 Is the Sunday Times Rich List a tribute to Thatcherism?

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The 25th edition of the Sunday Times Rich List has been published, with Arsenal FC shareholder Alisher Usmanov at the top.

When the first one was published on 2 April 1989, the paper called it an indictment of Thatcherism.

Margaret Thatcher had been in power for a month short of 10 years.

"The very limited success of the Thatcher revolution in transforming British society is graphically and grimly illustrated" by the list, the editorial said.

Old money

"Liberated from red tape, inflation, crippling taxes and the union barons, British businessmen by now should have seized the commanding heights of the economy and society," it said.

In that original list of the country's 200 richest people, only 86 of them had made their fortunes themselves.

The list was spattered with landowners, containing 11 dukes, six marquises, 14 earls and nine viscounts.

And at number one was the Queen (classified in the alphabetical list as "Queen, the") with her £5.2bn, sitting at the top of a tree grown from inherited wealth.

Sunday Times Rich List 1989


The Queen

The Queen




Duke of Westminster

Duke of Westminster




Lord Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury & family




Hans Rausing

Gad & Hans Rausing




Sir John Moores

Sir John Moores




Garfield Weston

Garfield Weston


Food production and retail


John Paul Getty

John Paul Getty II




Lord Vestey

Lord Vestey & Edmund Vestey




Octav Botnar

Octav Botnar




Sir James Goldsmith

Sir James Goldsmith



Much has changed in the 25 years of the list, not least the relegation of the Queen, who dropped out of the top 200 as a result of the decision by the report's author, Philip Beresford, to stop counting the value of things such as the royal art collection, which could not really be described as her personal wealth.

Richer and richer

  • In 1989 you would have needed wealth of £30m (about £65m today) to make it into the top 200
  • Last year, to get into the top 200 you would have needed £450m
  • In 1989 the wealth of the top 200 added up to £38bn
  • Last year it added up to £289bn

Her Majesty is not the only holder of inherited wealth who has slid down the league table.

"Wealth that is self-made is becoming more and more evident," Mr Beresford told BBC News.

"When I first started 25 years ago about two-thirds of the rich list were people who had inherited their wealth.

"Today, approaching 80% are self-made and that's really a legacy of the Thatcher years."

Peter York, the market researcher and cultural commentator, says the lack of self-made millionaires on the 1989 list "just shows you that development works in arrears to what you think is happening".

"The Thatcher revolution bore fruit in the sense that the home-grown money started to show itself in the mid-1990s."

Foreign money

But if you look at the self-made people likely to feature at the top of this year's list, a pattern emerges.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is likely to feature highly in this weekend's list

Lakshmi Mittal, who has been top of the list since 2005, could hardly be described as having made his money in Britain.

He owns a big stake in the global steel and mining company ArcelorMittal, only a tiny proportion of the activities of which take place in the UK.

Alisher Usmanov's wealth comes from iron ore in Russia and a stake in Facebook.

Roman Abramovich made his money in Russian oil.

The Hinduja brothers do indeed have extensive business interests in the UK, although they are dwarfed by their Indian businesses.

Leonard Blavatnik made his money buying stakes in Russia's newly privatised oil industry.

But with a few exceptions expected in the top 20, such as Sir Richard Branson and Sir Philip Green, not many have made their fortunes in Britain.

"The very richest people on the list are what most people would call foreign," Mr York says.

He adds the list has been distorted because "London has become the city of choice for the global super-rich".

"That's partly to do with fashion and partly to do with tax," he says.

And the tax regime is an inheritance from Thatcherism, he agrees.

"'Rich people have rights too,' you remember she said."

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